3 of 4 suspects plead guilty in beating of Highway Patrolman

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — Three Washington state residents accused in the beating of a South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against a fourth suspect.

Desiree Sukert, 26, and sibling Chase Sukert, 24, both of Renton, Washington, and Jonathan Melendez, 22, of Kent, Washington, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a drug charge and to being accessories in the Oct. 24, 2015, assault of Trooper Zachary Bader during an Interstate 90 traffic stop east of Rapid City. They each face up to 20 years in prison and $40,000 in fines.

Pennington County prosecutors agreed to drop illegal use of a firearm and other drug charges in a deal that calls for the three suspects to testify against co-defendant Donald Willingham, 34, also of Renton. He faces the most serious charges in the case including attempted murder. He has pleaded not guilty and remains jailed on $5 million bond.

In April, a judge granted a request by Willingham’s defense for a separate trial. His attorneys maintained that the three co-defendants made incriminating statements about Willingham. Defense lawyers also want to cross-examine the co-defendants at trial, but that wouldn’t be possible in a joint trial.

Authorities say the traffic stop led to the recovery of more than 50 pounds of marijuana, $33,000 in cash and a handgun. Bader spent two weeks at a Rapid City hospital being treated for injuries that included skull and facial fractures.

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